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 Stanley “Steve” Ketchel

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Stanley “Steve” Ketchel

  • Original Name Stanislaus Kiecal
  • Birth 14 Sep 1886 Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, USA
  • Death 15 Oct 1910 Springfield, Greene County, Missouri, USA
  • Burial Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, USA
  • Memorial ID 2259

Hall-of-Fame Professional Boxer. A feared puncher called the "Michigan Assassin", he had a spectacular, albeit short, career and is considered by many to have been the greatest middleweight of all time. Born Stanislaw Kiecal to a Polish immigrant family, he was initially raised in West Michigan but, though devoted to his parents, left home for Montana in his early teens. (Indeed, it is said that he stoked himself into a rage before each fight by imagining that his opponent of the evening had insulted his mother). By 14 he was working as a bouncer in a lumber camp as well as at local saloons and in 1903 at Butte he had his first professional fight, scoring a round one knockout over a nonentity named Kid Tracy. After fighting his first 40 or so bouts in Montana, Ketchel moved on to California in 1907 and was to claim a share of the middleweight crown after beating Joe Thomas in a September 2nd contest at San Francisco. Generally recognized as world champion following his February 22, 1908 knockout of Mike Twin Sullivan in Coloma, California he had several successful defenses of his title including one on May 9th against the former champion's brother Jack Twin Sullivan, before losing it at Vernon, California on September 7, 1908 to Billy Papke in a fight that became legendary and even changed boxing's rules; when the referee, retired heavyweight king Jim Jeffries, called for the fighters to come to the center of the ring and shake hands at the sound of the bell for round one Papke double crossed Ketchel with a sucker punch from which the champion never recovered and was to eventually score a 12th round knockout. Since that day fighters have shaken hands before the bell. During preparations for the November 26, 1908 rematch in Coloma, Ketchel pulled a double cross of his own by sending a "defector" from his camp to Papke's with news that Ketchel was lazy and refusing to train. In reality the former champion was working harder that he ever had and was to severely beat Papke en route to retaking his crown with an 11th round knockout. Ketchel was to defend the title a few more times and in 1909 fought twice against light heavyweight title holder Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, the March 26th meeting in New York City ending in a 10 round no decision while on June 9th at Philadelphia Ketchel was stopped in the third round. On October 16, 1909 at Coloma Ketchel met heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in a bout still discussed; the match was conceived as a scam on the public and was rigged to end in a no decision that would leave Johnson with his title while netting both men a decent sum of money. In the 12th round Ketchel apparently tired of the game and flattened Johnson with a hard right, though the big man was to get up and knock Ketchel out with a single punch that left teeth embedded in his glove. Ketchel was to have his last few matches in the northeast and was to enter the ring for what turned out to be the last time on June 10, 1910 when he knocked out Jim Smith in New York; his final total was 54 wins, 49 by knock out, with 4 losses and 4 draws. Though still quite young Ketchel was tired, prematurely worn out by a style that was long on ferocity and short on finesse. Further, he was most probably suffering from syphilis as a result of his notorious whore-mongering. After spending some time at home he traveled to Conway in rural southwestern Missouri in September 1910. What followed remains a matter of speculation; apparently Ketchel took up with a girl named Goldie Smith who may or may not have been the wife of Navy deserter Walter Dipley. On October 14th Ketchel upbraided Dipley for beating a horse and the next morning, out of resentment, jealousy, simple greed, or some combination of motives, Dipley shot the champion with a .22 rifle, whether in the back or chest being one of the points of contention. Ketchel was moved by train to a hospital in Springfield but died that night; returned home for burial he received the largest funeral Grand Rapids ever saw until that of Gerald Ford almost a century later. Goldie and Dipley were charged with murder and claimed self defense as it was well known that the fighter was always armed with a .45 caliber revolver; Goldie's charge was reduced to robbery and she served 17 months while her 'husband' was convicted of murder and locked up for 23 years. Over the years Ketchel has been the subject of at least two biographies and was memorialized in Papa Hemingway's short story "The Light of the World" as well as in James Carlos Blake's 2005 novel "The Killings of Stanley Ketchel". He was named the greatest middleweight ever by "Ring" magazine founder Nat Fleischer (Papke was listed 8th) and in a 1969 computerized tournament lost in the finals by decision to Sugar Ray Robinson. Today he is a member of the World Boxing, International Boxing, "Ring", Michigan Sports, and Polish-American Sports Halls-of-Fame, his grave is a shrine for boxers visiting Michigan, and hardcore fight fans dream of a time machine that would enable him to fight Robinson, Carlos Monzon, and others. As his career took place at the dawn of film technology there is little recorded evidence of his prowess, though partial videos of two of his four fights with Papke and of his bout with Johnson are available for viewing.

Bio by: Bob Hufford





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2259
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Stanley “Steve” Ketchel (14 Sep 1886–15 Oct 1910), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2259, citing Holy Cross Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .